Spark­ing the con­nec­tions

Vet­eran artist K. Thangara­joo’s resur­gent ca­reer is all about mould­ing unity with­out de­mand­ing con­form­ity.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By DARYL GOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

VIS­UAL artist and ed­u­ca­tor, K. Thangara­joo, isn’t plan­ning on a big 60th birth­day bash later this year. He isn’t in­ter­ested in slow­ing things down, ei­ther, es­pe­cially since he is now tak­ing on one of the busiest years in his long – yet largely un­der­ex­posed – ca­reer in lo­cal art.

“I’m try­ing hard to keep up with my­self and that’s a good thing at my age. I feel for­tu­nate to have this for­ward mo­men­tum, this new en­ergy,” says Thangara­joo, with a broad smile, dur­ing an in­ter­view at his stu­dio in one of Petaling Jaya’s leafy sub­urbs.

He has a resur­gent art ca­reer to fo­cus on and he also teaches art (weekly) at two in­ter­na­tional schools in the Klang Val­ley.

“For the first time in my life, I’ve learned about rou­tine! I en­joy teach­ing art to chil­dren, and that has given me so much sat­is­fac­tion through the years. I have two art labs now. The idea of me ex­hibit­ing (solo) reg­u­larly is a new one, though,” he adds can­didly.

“But that’s what I plan to do from now on. I’m re­dis­cov­er­ing so much from my archives – the art, the ideas and the at­ti­tude.”

The be­spec­ta­cled Thangara­joo is no av­er­age art teacher. He is an award-win­ning artist (pick­ing up the Young Con­tem­po­raries award at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery in 1984) and was an ac­tive – re­bel­lious – mem­ber of the Anak Alam (art) col­lec­tive, join­ing it in 1974.

“I was the youngest in the group. I never re­ally lis­tened to any­body, but that was a given if you looked at all the in­de­pen­dent thinkers in Anak Alam. Be­ing the only In­dian (mem­ber) was also not an is­sue, as there was a to­geth­er­ness and a de­sire to change the art scene,” he re­calls.

In­ter­est­ingly, he fondly re­mem­bers do­ing theatre work – act­ing, pan­tomine, pup­petry, and right through to han­dling stage light­ing – dur­ing his early years.

“I acted in the Khalid Salleh’s Si Ke­bayan in 1980 (at Pang­gung Drama KL) and even did the light­ing for Mar­ion d’Cruz’s Solo. It was all about the life ex­pe­ri­ences gained outside of art.”

He also il­lus­trated pub­lisher Dewan Ba­hasa and Pus­taka’s book, Tiki, Tiko And Tiku, which won the Best Chil­dren’s Book award prize at the Na­tional Book Fair in KL in 1984. In the past year, he re­veals how he has reignited his love for sto­ry­telling and il­lus­tra­tion, and his plans to re­lease the book, Mr Black, which has a main char­ac­ter bent on colour­ing the world black.

An av­er­age day starts at 5am for Thangara­joo, and he keeps him­self oc­cu­pied mainly with art – sketch­ing, draw­ing and painting.

How­ever, Thangara­joo ad­mits he can­not deny his out­sider sta­tus, drift­ing in and out of the art scene.

“Peo­ple have asked me where I’ve been in the last 40 years. Maybe, it’s be­cause I’ve only had two solo ex­hi­bi­tions. Well, I have to say climb­ing up the (art) gallery food chain has never been a part of my (artis­tic) pur­suit. I’ve al­ways made art, all the time, on my own terms. That has never been an is­sue. There has been no break in this con­ti­nu­ity,” he main­tains.

Thangara­joo’s solo ex­hi­bi­tions in­clude i, The Uni­verse (1997) and The Pulse Of Cre­ation (2016), with a port­fo­lio dot­ted by sev­eral group shows.

Tellingly enough, his near-death ex­pe­ri­ence in 1984, when he slipped and fell in a water­fall at Tem­pler Park in Se­lan­gor, changed his life pro­foundly. Since then, the ideas of mor­tal­ity, con­nec­tiv­ity and unity of all life forms have shaped his art and way of think­ing.

In the mid-1980s and 1990s, Thangara­joo started to move away from the usual ab­stract rep­re­sen­ta­tions, and con­structed a vis­ual lan­guage packed with chaotic raw en­ergy and cos­mic rhythm. Whether inks or pen­cils, he cre­ates pieces that seem to im­merse viewers in an oth­er­worldly cos­mic space.

“What­ever medium he chooses, the viewer will recog­nise a cer­tain spir­i­tual tug in Thangara­joo’s art. He has ded­i­cated his artis­tic life to show and cel­e­brate the unity and in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of all things in the uni­verse,” says in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor Tan Sei Hon, who put to­gether Thangara­joo’s third solo ex­hi­bi­tion Atomic Con­scious­ness, now show­ing at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in KL.

Thangara­joo cre­ated 47 new mixed me­dia works in Atomic Con­scious­ness, which con­tains his ink draw­ings, along­side a short in­tro­duc­tion of his ca­reer (a se­lec­tion of early works from the 1980s).

For Thangara­joo, no mat­ter how he looks back or goes for­ward, his works will al­ways be placed at the in­ter­sec­tion of art and sci­ence.

Im­por­tantly, he wants to dis­tance him­self from no­tions of mys­ti­cism and re­li­gion. In­stead, his ref­er­ence points seem to be sci­ence-based the­o­ries, and Atomic Con­scious­ness, like his pre­vi­ous pieces, con­tin­ues the artist’s fas­ci­na­tion for mat­ter, el­e­ments and atoms.

The spheres, pops, busy lines and dots and cir­cles break­ing off in all di­rec­tions at NVAG’s Atomic Con­scious­ness ex­hi­bi­tion are a sight to be­hold. The show is noth­ing short of a sig­na­ture K. Thangara­joo ex­pe­ri­ence, where “the lines that di­vide also unite”, to para­phrase the artist.

“I’m not con­cerned if I leave out too much, or if the painting doesn’t have enough vis­ual in­for­ma­tion. I paint what I feel in­side. I want the viewer to travel with my draw­ings to an­other di­men­sion,” he says.

Thangara­joo, who clearly isn’t hold­ing up him­self these days, has also started work on a large-scale ab­stract se­ries com­mis­sioned by a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion in KL in Novem­ber.

“I haven’t got a name for these new works yet, but for cer­tain, the colours will be back,” he prom­ises.

Atomic Con­scious­ness is on at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery, 2, Jalan Te­mer­loh, off Jalan Tun Razak in KL till June 30. Al-Noor In­ter­na­tional School sup­ported part of the show. The NVAG gallery re­opens on Tues­day and is open daily (10am-6pm). Con­tact: 012-346 7872. FB: Joo Tha.

Thangara­joo has al­ready started work on a new se­ries at his stu­dio in Petaling Jaya. It will fea­ture some of his big­gest works to date. — IBRAHIM MOHTAR/The Star

‘I paint what I feel in­side. I want the viewer to travel with my draw­ings to an­other di­men­sion,’ says Thangara­joo. His ex­hi­bi­tion Atomic Con­scious­ness, fea­tur­ing 47 ink works, is show­ing now at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery in KL. — Pho­tos: AZLINA AB­DUL­LAH/The Star

A visi­tor tak­ing a closer look at Thangara­joo’s de­tailed work in the Pulse Of Cre­ation se­ries (ink on can­vas, 2015) at the Atomic Con­cious­ness ex­hi­bi­tion.

An early work from Thangara­joo called Anak-Anak Alam 7 (ink on pa­per, 1982).

Atomic Con­scious­ness 32 (mixed me­dia, 2017).

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